Metal Nation’s Top 50 Hard Rock and Metal Albums of 2018


10.  Amorphis – Queen of Time (Nuclear Blast)

Helsinki’s Amorphis is truly one of the most consistent bands in progressive melodic death metal. This is due in part to a fairly stable line-up across the band’s 13 albums, stellar musicianship, and quality compositions. Add in the production of Jens Bogren (Opeth, Orphaned Land, Kreator), and it’s a pretty heady recipe for long-term success. Queen of Time sees original bassist Olli-Pekka Laine return to the fold, but beyond that, little has changed. The album picks up where 2015’s exceptional Under the Red Cloud  left off, this time adding greater orchestration while returning to some of the weightiness of their earlier works. Aside from the aforementioned UtRC, Queen of Time is arguably the best Amorphis effort in a decade since 2009’s fantastic effort, Skyforger, or even 1996’s masterpiece, Elegy. -RR

Amorphis released one of the genre’s greatest albums, Under the Red Cloud in 2015, and it is tough to follow a record of that calibre. When the Gods of Metal Nation  (editors in chief) said the new album is here for review, I screamed shotgun so hard, ripping my lungs. They, of course, did not hear my screams, but my neighbor did. He is a nice guy, so no problems there. Anyway,Queen of Time carries the traditional post 2000s sonic structure of Amorphis and a natural continuation from Under the Red Cloud. The sound on Queen of Time is grand, majestic and bombastic as usual, and as expected from Jens Bogren. He is my favourite engineer nowadays. “The Bee” and “Heart of the Giant, “are the tracks to check, even if you are not into what Amorphis has to offer. –Oganalp Canatan

9. Tribulation – Down Below (Century Media)

If you’ve never heard Tribulation before then mere words may not be up to the task of adequately describing them and their art, and art it is. There are few bands in the huge metal spectrum that are capable of evoking imagery through music in the way that Tribulation does. Down Below is presented in two parts, like a two-act play. The first four tracks elicit our darkest fears of what lies beyond with their melodies, calling us into the darkest recesses of our twisted and fearful imaginations. The final four tracks take on a slightly more aggressive tone in bringing those fears and evocations to life. The two “acts” are separated, appropriately, by the instrumental “Purgatorio”, a piece with the same ethereal beauty as the 1970’s classic “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield, used as the theme song for the movie “The Exorcist”. Down Below  fulfills the promise of its predecessor The Children of the Night, with an album that is more complete and satisfying on all levels. -Ross Ingall

8. Ghost – Prequelle (Loma Vista)

One thing I really love about the world of metal is the camaraderie amongst fans. Like any scene it has its share of douchebags, but by and large the metal community is very open minded, inclusive, and non-judgmental. These courtesies, however, do not apply when the subject turns to Ghost. I’m totally fine with that and I’m not here to try and change anyone’s mind. Prequelle  is an incredibly divisive album in the metal world—I get that—but Ghost is doing something way too many bands are afraid to do, and doing it very well. Prequelle is incredibly well crafted, expertly executed, and a damn fun album to listen to. As a measure of validating talent and skill I put zero stock in the Grammy Awards, but the mere fact that a band like Ghost is receiving recognition on that level brings a devious smile to my face. -CC

7.  Corrosion of Conformity – No Cross No Crown  (Nuclear Blast)

Corrosion of Conformity can do no wrong in my eyes, and this album is just as monumental as its predecessors. Pepper Kennan (guitar, vocals), Woody Weatherman (guitar),  Mike Dean (bass), and Reed Mullin (drums) have continued to be awe-inspiring and exceptional. Kennan’s vocals are always prodigious in the stoner rock genre. It is gruff, powerful, and impressive. The magnitude of what they are able to accomplish with their music continually is one of the reasons they are so high up here. No Cross No Crown is exactly COC, in all the best ways. You know what you are getting, and it is never a disappointment.  I will be honest, sometimes I have no idea what Keenan is talking about in his lyrics, but with this album, I feel much closer to him and his philosophy on life, which is just icing on the damn already perfectly built cake. – NRR

Corrosion of Conformity feels very similar to Tool. While it doesn’t appear that they might have widespread fame or name recognition, they have a very deep and loyal fan base that reveres the consistency and musicianship they have been bringing since 1982. With very minimal artist turnover (R.I.P. Eric Eycke), CoC have provided a sound and voice to a style that is just uncommon enough for many, many people to enjoy. No Cross No Crown IS a piece of nostalgia, just like that sip of Clearly Canadian, that also allows their fans the opportunity to rediscover why they loved them so much in the beginning. Reconnect with your metal roots, much like I was able to do, and revel in the mastery that Corrosion of Conformity provides yet again. -BJ

6. A Sound of Thunder – It Was Metal (Mad Neptune)

While many have yet to discover A Sound of Thunder,  have been a fan and supporter of pretty much everything these East Coast metallers have churned out. I knew going in, this would be a solid record, but I was not prepared for what turned out to be (at least for me) the best album they have made to date. A Sound of Thunder wanted to create a straight-forward metal album, and that’s exactly what they delivered here. It Was Metal  is nearly an hour long, yet feels like it flies by in hail of harmonies, wailing vocals, and addictive riffs. Despite the wealth of melody and the energetic feel of the record, A Sound of Thunder did not short change the listener on substance or depth. Every track feels like a mini-masterpiece unto itself. Each spin through the album reveals more details and invites another journey through. Every individual performance is on point, and while they all shine on their own, it is in the collective that they ascend to something greater. While the band may not see it as such, It Was Metal  is A Sound of Thunder‘s seminal work to date. That is significant praise considering how highly I regard their previous works. -RR

5. High on Fire – Electric Messiah (eOne Music)

High on Fire is the American metal band that others should be compared to. They aren’t proggy, death, or any other classification you can come up with. They are metal. High on Fire have been and will continue to be relentless in their touring and contributions, never backing down or lightening up their sound to try to broaden their base. They ensnare you with their passion, purpose, and bone-crushing sound. Electric Messiah is a crowning achievement and that crown is undoubtedly well deserved.  It is a welcome and triumphant return to the sound that put them on the metal map in 2000. – BJ

It’s impossible to regard guitarist and vocalist Matt Pike (High on Fire, Sleep) as anything less than one of metal’s true living legends.  My time with Electric Messiah has done nothing but reinforce my opinion that in High on Fire—and in combination with the undeniable talents of drummer Des Kensel and bassist Jeff Matz—Pike has found his highest and best purpose. – CC

4. Yob – Our Raw Heart (Relapse Records)

Put bluntly, Yob‘s Our Raw Heart is a power trip of emotion and soul, and it resonates on a level that very few albums can. There’s a lot of layers left for me to peel back on this beast, but I knew immediately after my first listen that this album would be counted amongst the most brilliant accomplishments of 2018. – CC

Our Raw Heart is what metal music can be at it’s finest. Each track showcases the various talents and evolutions of the band, specifically from 2008. Longtime YOB fans would embrace “The Screen” as the iconic sound of the doom lords from Oregon have projected for decades. “Beauty in Falling Leaves” might be my favorite song of the year, and certainly one that will never leave the recents list on my music player. Our Raw Heart captures what it means to actually live, not just be. By producing a career-defining piece of art, YOB is easily among the Best Albums of 2018. -BJ

3. The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Paleozoic (Metal Blade)

Having been a longtime fan of bands like Isis, when I first heard them, The Ocean became an immediate add to my listening queue. They combine a Porcupine Tree-type sound and vocal style with a little Scott Kelly (Neurosis) added in. Proggy and melodic, Phanerozoic I  is difficult to peg into a specific style. The instrumentation on the band’s eighth studio album varies from song to song, including pieces with piano, others with a cello. The only way I can describe it is that they are aptly named. Exceedingly atmospheric and moody/brooding, The Ocean will gently toss you from side to side, but the water below is certainly dark and murky. The second part of this disc set will come out in early 2019 and it is sure to charm as well. – BJ

2. Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name (Metal Blade)

If you’re a fan of dynamic, progressive death metal that is not bound to any musical preconceptions of genre, Where Owls Know My Name is certainly an album you’re not going to want to miss.  Rivers of Nihil have created a sonic landscape full of amazing contrasts.  Darkly beautiful, sinister yet comforting and melodically engaging without losing the powerful impact that death metal is known for. – DW

If you look at the length of the tracks on Where Owls Know My Name, one might think this album would be more sludgy and slow, with tracks breaking six to eight minutes long. Yet, the majority of the record is relentlessly aggressive. The band has developed a unique signature riff structure that I can’t get enough of. It’s bouncy and punchy while still being articulate and clear. Even though the songs are objectively lengthy, they fly by as you become so enamored and taken by the sound. All in all, Where Owls Know My Name is a phenomenal record that is well worthy of all the praise it has received and more. Rivers of Nihil have grown into their talent perfectly and they really do raise the bar for what modern death metal should sound like. Production wise, as you might guess, everything is top notch. I couldn’t find a single bit that I didn’t like honestly. – Dallas Luckey

1. Judas Priest – Firepower (Epic Records)

Scott Ian once hailed the Metal Gods as the first true metal band, albeit, he notes they didn’t get there fully until 1980’s British Steel. By then they had gotten past their bluesy and at time progressive phases. Still, their earliest albums were pretty metal. There were some admittedly lean years in the 90s and 00s, Many had written the mighty Judas Priest off as another classic band trying to ride its prodigious coattails to a sputtering end, but they proved there is more in the tank with their 2014 comeback album, Redeemer of Souls. This year, Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill, Scott Travis, and Richie Faulkner, combined to create the band’s most complete and powerful effort since their Painkiller album. Producers Tom Allom and Andy Sneap both worked their magic as well, making sure Firepower did not suffer the same weak mix of its otherwise crushing predecessor.  From start to finish, Firepower is packed with one riff-centric, metal track after another, and while age may be taking its toll health wise, creatively the band is rejuvenated and they are clearly having fun making metal again.  While an argument could be made for any album in our Top 10 to rest at #1, Judas Priest have crafted a record that is a reminder of where metal started and why it remains as strong today as it ever has been. After 40 years, Priest can still lead the metal hordes with no surrender. There really was no other choice in choosing Firepower as the best overall metal offering of the year. -RR



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